Noah Lyles bounces back at Prefontaine Classic: What comes next?

The Tokyo 2020 men's 200m bronze medallist Noah Lyles "had to convince myself" to race at the Prefontaine Classic, where he set the 9th-fastest time in history. What comes next for the 2019 world champion?

By ZK Goh
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

There was little hiding that world champion Noah Lyles was disappointed with his bronze-medal performance in the men's 200m at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The American held the fastest wind-legal time in the event this year until the Tokyo Games, where both André de Grasse of Canada and Lyles' teammate Kenny Bednarek went faster. It was, for the hot favourite for gold, a blow.

So much so that, he admitted, he "had to convince myself to kind of come up here" – 'here' being the first major athletics meet since the Olympic Games, at the Diamond League Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Just as well – Lyles won the race at Hayward Field at a canter, clocking 19.52 seconds for the ninth-fastest time in history and just 0.02 seconds off his personal best.

"It's a nice, tight little bow on the end of the season," he said in his media commitments after the race in Oregon.

"I wasn't really feeling… I didn't feel like my mindset was really right for today but after at least five sessions of therapy I finally was able to let go of what happened in Tokyo, convince myself that I'm upset and I know that I'm in a great shape to run and come out here and be able to put it down on the track."

"I want to be known as, that's Noah Lyles"

Lyles' time in the Tokyo final of 19.74 seconds – which happened to also be his previous 2021 world lead set at the U.S. Olympic Trials – was only enough for bronze, but following his exploits in the Olympic Stadium Lyles told that he had still achieved what he wanted to in the Japanese capital.

"I went in with the intention to give my all and I'm leaving knowing that I gave everything," he said.

"Knowing that track and field isn't everything to me; I am still a human being and I don't need track to be my everything. I felt that after I did my interviews that I was able to reach a bigger audience than I had before," Lyles added, referring to his post-final mixed zone comments, when he opened up about his mental health battles.

"Finally, being able to give more of my personality not on the track, but off the track and people being able to listen and having people actually be moved by what I said made me feel that I was finally being heard as a person instead of just an athlete.

"And that was something that I've been trying to find, you know, through the years. Those are the things that make you transcend the sport.

"I don't want to just be known as a track and field athlete. I want to be known as, you know, that's Noah Lyles."

Lyles sharing vulnerability and mental health fight

The American added that sharing his vulnerability – he spoke about going to therapy as he referenced after his Prefontaine Classic run, and about taking anti-depressants – was important for him.

"The reason that I share is because I know that I'm in positions that other people are in and they could have even worse than me, and I want them to know that they are not alone (for) one, and that there's a way to get out (for) two.

"And no, I'm not Superman. I hate when people think that athletes are superhuman, because we're really human and we just have a gift that is shown on TV. You know, everybody has a gift and it's knowing what your gift is and nurturing it and going through with it."

Lyles added, laughing: "Just because your gifts is shown on TV doesn't mean (daily struggles are) any less important, because even though I'm out here, you know, being a personality, I still need somebody to do my taxes because I am horrible at numbers!"

Learning from Tokyo

Lyles, the 2019 world champion over 200m, said that he would take a lot away from the Japanese capital, not just his bronze medal.

"I've learned a lot of things in this Tokyo 2020 journey. I'd say the big one is patience. Learning that, you know, just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it's not going to happen," he acknowledged.

"I've had to learn that my plan isn't the way it's going to happen. You know, when you set out for a journey, what you're thinking is just in an A to B scenario, you know, a straight line, but it's usually going to have a lot of zigzags.

"And being able to go with all those twists and turns, knowing that the outcome is still going to be good, and then finally knowing that the situation might not be all about me."

Lyles said that while conducting his post-final press huddle at Tokyo 2020, he considered a bigger picture to the outcome of the race.

"Maybe God didn't want me to win because André needed this platform to reach somebody, and it wasn't somebody that I could reach. It was only somebody that he could reach and it would be really selfish, selfish of me to think that I should just have this just to have it."

What next for Noah Lyles?

His comments after the Prefontaine Classic win seem to suggest Lyles may be done for the season – he is not currently entered in the Diamond League meets set for Lausanne or Paris.

Lyles also tweeted prior to the event that he had completed his "last practice of the year".

Next year, the 2022 World Athletics Championships return to Hayward Field in Eugene, where Lyles will have his sights set on improving his 19.50 personal best. Only three men – Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and Michael Johnson – have ever run faster than Lyles.

Away from the track, too, Lyles hopes to have an impact on the worlds of fashion and music.

The 24-year-old has an invite to the world-famous Met Gala in September, and also hopes to work with some of the biggest names in U.S. hip-hop.

"Might as well just branch out into more things, you know? Yeah, I'm doing track, but I'm having a lot of fun doing other stuff, making music, getting into fashion," he confirmed.

"I'd really like to get in the fashion in these next four years. Of course, I'mma go for the next Olympics [Paris 2024] because why not? And whatever comes my way. I just want to have more fun adventures.

"I would love to have my own fashion line in the future. And of course, I still want to put together an official studio album, something that I could really, really get my hands on and have a lot of people help me work on and just be able to put a stamp on that and say I did that and I'm very proud of it.

Who would he collaborate with, given the chance?

"Jaden Smith, Travis Scott

"I would have chose Kanye [West], but I don't know if Kanye wants to work with people right now," he laughed. "So probably Jay-Z."